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Bolnhurst School

The school about 1910 [Z1306/20/1]
The school about 1910 [Z1306/20/1]

Volume 81 published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is a series of episcopal visitations undertaken in the first twenty years of the 18th century, edited by former County Archivist Patricia Bell. At each visitation a list of questions was sent out in advance, one of which enquired about the provision of schools in each parish. The returns from 1706 to 1720 state that there was no school in the parish.

A letter from the Diocese of Saint Albans solicitor refers to a foundation deed of 4th October 1791 from Rev Tilley Walker (son and heir of Thomas Walker who was devisee of Thomas Baker of Bolnhurst) to Rev John de Viel of Bolnhurst, Rev John King of Pertenhall, Rev Robert Hele Selby Hele of Colmworth and Rev Oliver Saint John Cooper of Thurleigh setting up the school in Bolnhurst [CRT130Bol4], following the intention set out in the will of Thomas Baker.

In 1818 a Select Committee was established to enquire into educational provision for the poor. This was no doubt prompted, in part, by the recent foundation of two societies promoting education and specifically the building of schools. The Society for Promoting the Lancasterian System for the Education of the Poor was established in 1808 promoting schools run along the lines pioneered by Joseph Lancaster, who had himself copied those of Dr.Andrew Bell, in which older children taught their younger fellows. The Society was renamed the British and Foreign School Society in 1814. It was supported by a number of prominent nonconformists, Lancaster himself was a Quaker, and sought to teach a non-sectarian curriculum. In answer to this perceived nonconformist takeover of local education the National Society was formed in 1811 to encourage the teaching of poor children along Anglican lines, including the catechism. The Select Committee sent a questionnaire to all parishes in the country asking for: particulars relating to endowments for the education of children; other educational institutions; observations of parish needs etc. The response from Bolnhurst was that there was a school “for an unlimited number; 8 children attend upon average: the funds are £12 arising from land left in trust”.

In the country generally the number of schools built continued to grow over the next fifteen years so that by 1833 the government agreed to supplement the work of the two societies, and local benefactors, by making £20,000 per annum available in grants to help build schools. It also prompted another questionnaire to be sent to each parish in England asking for details of local educational provision. Bolnhurst replied: “One Day and Sunday School, attended by from 24 to 50 children, supported by endowments. The number of children in the School varies according to the seasons of the year”. In those days a Sunday School was just that, a school which met on a Sunday, usually in the church or nonconformist chapel or other similar building, teaching more than the religious topics with which they are associated today.

In a manuscript book which includes details of the school [P11/28/2] is the phrase that the school was “dilapidated, presided over by a very aged and utterly incompetent person so late as 1840”.

The next national enquiry was in 1846/7 when the Church of England made an enquiry as to all its church schools. This was against the background of a new Whig government which championed secular education and the increasing importance of nonconformists, particularly Wesleyan Methodist, and Roman Catholics in providing schools. At this date Bolnhurst had a Sunday school with thirty boys and twenty girls and a daily school with 28 boys and 20 girls: “All those who attend in the week also attend on Sunday so there are just 2 extra boys on Sundays”. The school premises were rebuilt in 1851 [P11/28/2].

The first Education Act was passed in 1870 (more correctly it was known as the Elementary Education Act). It was a milestone in the provision of education in Britain demonstrating central government's unequivocal support for education of all classes across the country. It also sought to secularise education by allowing the creation of School Boards. These were groups of representatives, elected by the local ratepayers and the Board had the powers to raise funds to form a local rate to support local education, build and run schools, pay the fees of the poorest children, make local school attendance compulsory between the ages of 5 and 13 and could even support local church schools, though in practice they replaced them, turning them into Board run schools (known as Board Schools). Naturally, and luckily for local historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. Bolnhurst reported that it had “no efficient school”. Required was: “accommodation for 62 children, in the parish of Bolnhurst, near the present school. If the present school be at once made efficient by appointing a certificated teacher and by improvement of the walls and floor and desk accommodation, and if it be enlarged so as to accommodate 62 children, no further accommodation will be required”.

A School Board was created in Bolnhurst on 4th April 1884. The first school logbook, which begins in 1885, states that the school had re-opened after more than two years, no doubt as a result of the creation of the School Board. Rev Robert Atherton wrote humorous verse under the name Rupert Upperton. His daughter went to the school. He once wrote in the log book

Then little folks, and little school
Are little lessons learned,
Do each your little works of life
Till little wrongs are spurned,
Till little ways of mean design
Pass from our little span,
Till little girl and boy becomes
A little woman and man

The spoilsport Her Majesty's Inspector wrote: “The Log Book should not be used for this purpose” [SDBolnhurst1].

A land-mark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It disbanded the School Boards and gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. By 1905 the council school had closed temporarily.

Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The first inspection in the scrapbook was in 1910: “This little School is thoroughly well taught and in all respects is in a very satisfactory condition. Tone and discipline are excellent and the work in all its branches is remarkably good. The neatness and accuracy of the written exercises deserves special mention”.

In 1913 average attendance was 27: “This little school is in excellent order. The children are remarkably bright and intelligent and the work throughout, in all branches, is unusually good”.

Lack of resources meant that no inspections were carried out during the Great War, so the next inspection in the scrapbook was September 1920, when average attendance was 18: “This little school is taught with conspicuous ability and success. Tone and discipline are excellent, and the whole of the school is, and long has been, of altogether exceptional merit. The children obviously enjoy their school life, they are alert and intelligent, and they shew unusual powers of application”.

In 1922 a longer report was made: “In this small school, which is doing very creditable work, a small additional outlay on books is very desirable and would be well repaid. The two classes are (1) Infants, Standard II, roughly. These have nine continuous story readers and many of them are short. (2) Standard III – VII. These have 11 continuous books: five abridged “Classics” and others of the “Bright Story Reader” type. There are no complete books”.

“An obvious calculation will show that books must be repeated; and that those suitable for Standard VII cannot be suitable for Standard III is also self-evident. I have recently seen in Luton Schools copies of such books as “The Coral”; “”Little Women” and others from a “Library” published at 1s 8d net each by Frowde, Hodder and Stoughton. Some of these would be useful”.

“The Readers, too, are not sufficiently graded and are not up to date. The Head Teacher does not want Geographical of Historical Readers for the Lower Standards, but probably four books of each type suitable for Standards VI and VII would enable private study to be undertaken successfully”.

The following year average attendance was 23: “This is a very good country school. The response of the children to their Teacher is excellent; and the careful, clear articulation in Reading and the equally careful and well-formed, and clear writing of figures in books, are very creditable indeed. The children are well behaved in School; and the type of work they are given to do should lead to self-reliance. The younger children work very well; some of them have an unusually full vocabulary which is well used. The older children also work well, but, in comparison with the younger ones, their output is rather scanty. Neatness and cleanliness have in one or two cases become rather a fetish, and more sums could and should be worked out, in the time available. Their general progress is eminently satisfactory, and the tone of the school is very happy and wholesome”.

A visit in May 1925 was devoted to the premises: “The temperature is very low in cold weather. The cesspits smell offensively. The Head Teacher considers they are not emptied frequently enough, and has great difficulty in keeping the urinal drain unblocked: it appears difficult to get people to attend to it. The fence behind the school is beginning to rot away, and the playground surface is so unsatisfactory that it is often impossible to take physical exercises”.

The following year average attendance was 15: “This little school has since the Easter Holidays become a Junior School with 12 children on the books. The work done when it contained children in all standards was remarkable. The numbers were always low enough for individual attention to be given: the school, in fact, in open competitions last year won several distinctions – in open competition 3 special first prizes of silver cups were awarded – and, generally speaking, the work done was quite equal to that in many good Senior Departments. But there was no possibility here for Sports or for Domestic of Manual Instruction; and the best children had no means of measuring their capacity against the strength of others of their own age with larger opportunities. These advantages will now be given to them: and it is probable that the excellent training given by their Head Mistress will receive more ample recognition and greater reward than is possible now in this small village. Those left in the school are well forward and should be ready, at an earlier age even than is proposed, for transference to the larger school to which they will normally go when they become eleven years old”.

A brief report on 23rd October 1928 reads: “This school continues to show the high standard of aim and achievement which has characterised it under its present Head Teacher for several years”. The next report was not until September 1931, when average attendance was 11: “This Junior School, with 17 on the roll now, is doing remarkably good work. It went through a difficult time last year, every child being absent through epidemic sickness for 5 weeks, and the vitality of the children was seriously impaired for some time after their return to school. None the less one child got a scholarship and another got as far as the viva. In the past few years several children have got as far as this stage. As their speech is certainly good, probably nervousness prevents their ultimate success”.

“The written work in Composition and Arithmetic reaches a very high level, the development in these subjects and in Reading being unusually rapid among the younger children. The Head Mistress is able to give much individual attention to the more backward beginners; her management of the school is excellent. The children themselves are very much interested in their work, and behave well in school”.

The last visit in the scrapbook was made in October 1938: “There are at present only 10 children (5 Infants and 5 Juniors) on the roll of this school. The Head Mistress who has been here for 32 years continues to manage the school happily and efficiently. The achievements of the older children in Reading, Arithmetic and written English are particularly good. These children, too, are well-informed in matters of current interest. The Infants have made a good start in the fundamental subjects – particularly in Reading”. The name of the head mistress, directories tell us, was Miss Amy Bayes.

The third of the great Education Acts was that of 1944 which established the principle of County Primary Schools for children up to the age of 11, at which time they took an examination to determine the nature of the secondary school they would attend until they were 15, the most academically able going to grammar schools, the rest to secondary or secondary modern schools.

The logbook [SDBolhnurst2] tells us that the new county primary school was not viable. On 5th January 1950 it was noted: “Re-assembled after Christmas Holiday. There are now only 4 children on the Register as Kenneth Burgess has removed to Swineshead with his parents”. The end came on 20th October that year, headmistress Amy L Harper writing: “This school closed today by order of the Minister of Education. All the children are to be transferred to Keysoe School”.

The Old School February 2016
The Old School February 2016